After eight weeks of travel, I am so happy to be home I could just about kiss the floor beneath my writing desk. Spring ran late while I was away, so the terrible, horrible, awful, humidity and heat haven’t yet gotten fired up here in western Maryland. The honeysuckle is blooming, the lightning bugs are due out soon, and I can see raspberries getting ripe on the vine.
But why should this be? I was with my family on the West Coast, with people who’ve loved me literally since before I was born. I was in a beautiful house right on the water, away from the office, able to write for parts of the day, and in the middle of some of the most legendarily pleasant climate ever there was.
That would be some people’s definition of a fine vacation—but not mine.
As I was out walking this evening (ah, honeysuckle!), it occurred to me that compared to some people, I don’t have a lot of identities, particularly not many of what are called relational identities. Women in US culture are thought to live longer than men in part because the ladies invest more heavily in relationships, and as a result, aren’t as stressed when things in any one area go wrong.
If our jobs bother us, we turn to friends, our marriage, our family, our church, our volunteer circle, our children, the book club, and so forth for affirmation and meaning. If the marriage is stressed, we can invest in the job, etc. Men apparently invest more heavily and exclusively in work, and so they’re more vulnerable when things go poorly.
These are generalities, of course, and the landscape is changing. My point is that at my parents’ house, it was hard to be anything other than “daughter.” I certainly wasn’t lawyering, I wasn’t neighboring. I couldn’t meet friends for breakfast at Panera, I couldn’t call up a writing buddy for a Starbucks plotting session. I couldn’t hang out of the barn with other horse girls.
Yes, I could write, but something about dealing with Dad’s catheter just did not inspire the old steamy historical muse.
Many of my identities—particularly ones I enjoy—were not available to me, and an identity I’ve never quite felt successful at (daughter) was in overdrive. It didn’t help that I was dealing with my parents in a town I’ve loathed since childhood, because that too reinforced the notion that I was busted back to minor child, with no authority over my time.
I’m going to use this in a book—deprive a character of the roles he or she feels comfortable in and comforted by—but mostly I’m surprised by how social I am, and how many different roles I do enjoy in the course of a “normal week.”
When you’re around family, what changes for you? Are you stronger? Happier? Quieter? How did you notice the change or did somebody point it out to you?
To one commenter, I’ll send a signed print copy of “Nicholas” and “Ethan.”